The VHT215 is a snap to set up. Plug everything in, hook up your sources and you're up and running. Subwoofer-speaker pairing is automatic and there's no initial speaker calibration required. However, as we mentioned, you can make bass and treble adjustments via the remote, with +/- 10 dB range of adjustment. Subwoofer volume is separately adjustable too, over the same wide range, so it's easy to fine-tune the sound on the fly, without delving into sound menus. If you're living in an apartment or any place where the sound can get too loud, easy access to the subwoofer volume is truly a blessing.
Performance: Tweaked to your liking
Thanks to the no-fuss setup, we heard the VHT215 at its best as soon as we popped in the "Anonymous" DVD. The movie is set in Elizabethan England, and asks the question, Who was the author of the plays credited to William Shakespeare? The VHT215 credibly recreated the ambience of the small theaters and stone-walled rooms, and dialogue articulation was consistently excellent. We felt the movie mix was a little bright, so we nudged the treble down a few dB on the remote, and that made the movie's Baroque music sound more natural.
The battle scenes in the "Home of the Brave" overtaxed the VHT215 when we played the Blu-ray loud, but lowering the volume cleared up those concerns. We used the SRS TruVolume feature to minimize the abrupt soft-to-loud volume shifts, and found it effective, but there was some muffling of the detail with the TruVolume.
The VHT215 is a 2.1-channel system, so it can't project the room-filling sound of a 5.1-channel home theater. Vizio includes two surround processing modes on the VHT215, SRS Wow and SRS TruSurround, and we were underwhelmed by the former, but felt TruSurround did a good job of expanding the soundstage across the front of our listening room. However, the same movie played over the Haier SBEV40-SLIM sound bar, which doesn't have any sound-processing modes, had richer and more powerful sound.
We also compared the VHT215 with Yamaha's excellent (but subwooferless) YAS-101 sound bar, and with the "Master & Commander" Blu-ray we heard big differences in sound quality between the two systems. The YAS-101 was slightly clearer, but when the cannonballs come crashing through the sides of the big wooden ships the VHT215 played louder and the subwoofer's added oomph was much appreciated. The YAS-101 projected a slightly larger soundstage than the VHT215 did. We still like the YAS-101, especially if you don't want the bulk of a separate sub, but the VHT215's power and flexible tone controls make it a more attractive alternative.
CDs sounded about average for a sound bar system, which is to say, fine for background listening, but that's about all. The Haier SBEV40-SLIM was much better in that regard.
Conclusion: Top budget sound bar choice
The Vizio VHT215 is the best sound bar the company has made so far, with a smart look, great sound, and lots of flexibility to make sonic adjustments. Ultimately we prefer the Haier SBEV40-SLIM's slicker design and slightly better sound quality, but the Vizio is close behind with a great remote and sound that can be tweaked to your liking. It should be on your short list of options if you're buying a budget sound bar.